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CHAPTER X.

THE FIRST CHRISTIAN COUNCIL.

"And certain men came down from Judæa and taught the brethren, saying, Except ye be circumcised after the custom of Moses, ye cannot be saved. And when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and questioning with them, the brethren appointed that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.... And the apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider of this matter."... James said, "My judgment is, that we trouble not them which from among the Gentiles turn to God."—Acts xv. 1, 2, 6, 19.

I have headed this chapter, which treats of Acts xv. and its incidents, the First Christian Council, and that of set purpose and following eminent ecclesiastical example. People often hear the canons of the great Councils quoted, the canons of Nice, Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon, those great assemblies which threshed out the controversies concerning the person and nature of Jesus Christ and determined with marvellous precision the methods of expressing the true doctrine on these points, and they wonder where or how such ancient documents have been preserved. Well, the answer is simple enough. If any reader, curious about the doings of these ancient assemblies, desires to study the decrees which proceeded from them, and even the debates which occurred in them, he need only ask in any great library for a history of the Councils, edited either by Hardouin or Labbe and220 Cossart, or, best and latest of all, by Mansi. They are not externally very attractive volumes, being vast folios; nor are they light or interesting reading. The industrious student will learn much from them, however; and he will find that they all begin the history of the Christian Councils by placing at the very head and forefront thereof the history and acts of the Council of Jerusalem held about the year 48 or 49 A.D., wherein we find a typical example of a Church synod which set a fashion perpetuated throughout the ages in councils, conferences, and congresses down to the present time. Let us inquire then into the origin, the procedure, and the results of this Assembly, sure that a council conducted under such auspices, reported by such a divinely guided historian, and dealing with such burning questions, must have important lessons for the Church of every age.121121   Mansi, A.D. 1692-1769, was Archbishop of Lucca. He was a very learned man. Besides valuable editions of other men's works he published his Sarcorum Conciliorum Collectio in thirty-one vols. folio, Florence and Venice, 1759-98. Mansi fixes the date of the Jerusalem Synod either to 49 or 51 A.D. He counts it the third synod, regarding as the first synod that held for the election of Matthias, and as the second that assembled for the choice of the deacons.

I. The question, however, naturally meets us at the very threshold of our inquiry as to the date of this assembly, and the position which it holds in the process of development through which the Christian Church was passing. The decision of this Synod at Jerusalem did not finally settle the questions about the law and its obligatory character. The relations between the Jewish and Gentile sections of the Church continued in some places, especially in the East, more or less unsettled well into the second century; for the Jews found it very hard indeed to surrender all their cherished221 privileges and ancient national distinctions. But the decree of the Jerusalem Assembly, though only a partial settlement, "mere articles of peace," as it has been well called, to tide over a pressing local controversy, formed in St. Paul's hands a powerful weapon whereby the freedom, the unity, and the catholicity of the Church was finally achieved. Where, then, do we locate this Synod in the story of St. Paul's labours?

The narrative of the Acts clearly enough places it between the first and the second missionary tours in Asia Minor undertaken by that apostle. Paul and Barnabas laboured for the first time in Asia Minor probably from the autumn of 44 till the spring or summer of 46. Their work at that time must have extended over at least eighteen months or more. Their journeys on foot must alone have taken up no small time. They traversed from Perga, where they landed, to Derbe, whence they turned back upon their work, a space of at least two hundred and fifty miles. They made lengthened sojourns in large cities like Antioch and Iconium. They doubtless visited other places of which we are told nothing. Then, having completed their aggressive work, they retraced their steps along the same route, and began their work of consolidation and Church organisation, which must have occupied on their return journey almost as much, if not more, time that they had spent in aggressive labour upon their earlier journey. When we consider all this, and strive to realise the conditions of life and travel in Asia Minor at that time, eighteen months will not appear too long for the work which the apostles actually performed. After their return to Antioch they took up their abode in that city for a considerable period. "They tarried no little time with the disciples" are the exact words222 of St. Luke telling of their stay at Antioch. Then comes the tale of Jewish intrigues and insinuations, followed by debates, strife, and oppositions concerning the universally binding character of the Jewish law, terminating with the formal deputation from Antioch to Jerusalem. These latter events at Antioch may have happened in a few weeks or months, or they may have extended over a couple of years. But then, on the other hand, we note that St. Paul's second missionary journey began soon after the Synod of Jerusalem. That journey was very lengthened. It led St. Paul right through Asia Minor, and thence into Europe, where he must have made a stay of at least two years. He was at Corinth for eighteen months when Gallio arrived as proconsul about the middle of the year 53, and previously to that he had worked his way through Macedonia and Greece. St. Paul on his second tour must have been then at least four years absent from Antioch, which he must therefore have left about the year 49 or 50. The Synod of Jerusalem must therefore be assigned to the year 48 A.D. or thereabouts; or, in other words, not quite twenty years after the Crucifixion.

II. And now this leads us to consider the occasion of the Synod. The time was not, as we have said, quite twenty years after the Crucifixion, yet that brief space had been quite sufficient to raise questions undreamt of in earlier days. The Church was at first completely homogeneous, its members being all Jews; but the admission of the Gentiles and the action of St. Peter in the matter of Cornelius had destroyed this characteristic so dear to the Jewish heart. The Divine revelation at Joppa to St. Peter and the gift of the Holy Ghost to Cornelius had for a time quenched the opposition to the admission of the Gentiles to baptism; but, as223 we have already said, the extreme Jewish party were only silenced for a time, they were not destroyed. They took up a new position. The case of Cornelius merely decided that a man might be baptized without having been previously circumcised; but it decided nothing in their opinion about the subsequent necessity for circumcision and admission into the ranks of the Jewish nation. Their view, in fact, was the same as of old. Salvation belonged exclusively to the Jewish nation, and therefore if the converted Gentiles were to be saved it must be by incorporation into that body to which salvation alone belonged. The strict Jewish section of the Church insisted the more upon this point, because they saw rising up in the Church of Antioch, and elsewhere among the Churches of Syria and Cilicia, a grave social danger threatening the existence of their nation as a separate people. There were just then two classes of disciples in these Churches. There were disciples who lived after the Jewish fashion,—abstaining from unlawful foods, using food slain by Jewish butchers, and scrupulous in washings and lustrations; and there were Gentiles who lived after the Gentile fashion, and in especial ate pork and things strangled. The strict Jews knew right well the tendency of a majority to swallow up a minority, specially when they were all members of the same religious community, enjoying the same privileges and partakers of the same hope. A majority does not indeed necessarily absorb a minority. Roman Catholicism is the religion of the majority in Ireland and France; yet it has not absorbed the small Protestant minority. The adherents of Judaism were scattered in St. Paul's day all over the world, yet Paganism had not swallowed them up. In these cases,224 however, the minority have been completely separated from the majority by a middle wall, a barrier of rigid discipline, and of strong, yea, even violent religious repugnance. But the prospect now before the strict Jewish party was quite different. In the Syrian Church as they beheld it growing up Jew and Gentile would be closely linked together, professing the same faith, saying the same prayers, joining in the same sacraments, worshipping in the same buildings. All the advantages, too, would be on the side of the Gentile. He was freed from the troublesome restrictions—the more troublesome because so petty and minute—of the Levitical Law. He could eat what he liked, and join in social converse and general life without hesitation or fear. In a short time a Jewish disciple would come to ask himself, What do I gain by all these observances, this yoke of ordinances, which neither we nor our fathers have been able perfectly to bear? If a Gentile disciple can be saved without them, why should I trouble myself with them? The Jewish party saw clearly enough that toleration of the presence of the Gentiles in the Church and their admission to full communion and complete Christian privileges simply involved the certain overthrow of Jewish customs, Jewish privileges, and Jewish national expectations. They saw that it was a case of war to the death, one party or the other must conquer, and therefore in self-defence they raised the cry, "Unless the Gentile converts be circumcised after the manner of Moses they cannot be saved."

Antioch was recognised at Jerusalem as the centre of Gentile Christianity. Certain, therefore, of the zealous, Judaising disciples of Jerusalem repaired to Antioch, joined the Church, and secretly proceeded to225 organise opposition to the dominant practice, using for that purpose all the authority connected with the name of James the Lord's brother, who presided over the Mother Church of the Holy City.

Now let us see what position St. Paul took up with respect to these "false brethren privily brought in, who came in privily to spy out the liberty he enjoyed in Christ Jesus." Paul and Barnabas both set themselves undauntedly to fight against such teaching. They had seen and known the spiritual life which flourished free from all Jewish observances in the Church of the Gentiles. They had seen the gospel bringing forth the fruits of purity and faith, of joy and peace in the Holy Ghost; they knew that these things prepare the soul for the beatific vision of God, and confer a present salvation here below; and they could not tolerate the idea that a Jewish ceremony was necessary over and above the life which Christ confers if men are to gain final salvation.

Here, perhaps, is the proper place to set forth St. Paul's view of circumcision and of all external Jewish ordinances, as we gather it from a broad review of his writings. St. Paul vigorously opposed all those who taught the necessity of Jewish rites so far as salvation is concerned. This is evident from this chapter and from the Epistle to the Galatians. But, on the other hand, St. Paul had not the slightest objection to men observing the law and submitting to circumcision, if they only realised that these things were mere national customs and observed them as national customs, and even as religious rites, but not as necessary religious rites. If men took a right view of circumcision, St. Paul had not the slightest objection to it. It was not to circumcision St. Paul objected, but to226 the extreme stress laid upon it, the intolerant views connected with it. Circumcision as a voluntary practice, an interesting historical relic of ancient ideas and customs, he never rejected,—nay, further, he even practised it, as we shall see in the case of Timothy; circumcision as a compulsory practice binding upon all men St. Paul utterly abhorred. We may, perhaps, draw an illustration from a modern Church in this respect. The Coptic and Abyssinian Churches retain the ancient Jewish practice of circumcision. These Churches date back to the earliest Christian times, and retain doubtless in this respect the practice of the primitive Christian Church. The Copts circumcise their children on the eighth day and before they are baptized; but they regard this rite as a mere national custom, and treat it as absolutely devoid of any religious meaning, significance, or necessity. St. Paul would have had no objection to circumcision in this aspect any more than he would have objected to a Turk for wearing a fez, or a Chinaman for wearing a pigtail, or a Hindoo for wearing a turban. National customs as such were things absolutely indifferent in his view. But if Turkish or Chinese Christians were to insist upon all men wearing their peculiar dress and observing their peculiar national customs as being things absolutely necessary to salvation, St. Paul, were he alive, would denounce and oppose them as vigorously as he did the Judaisers of his own day.122122   We miss the true standpoint whence to judge St. Paul's conduct aright, when we think as people generally do that St. Paul opposed circumcision per se. He simply opposed it when connected with wrong ideas. The Judaising disciples viewed the Jewish nation as the covenant people to whom alone salvation belonged. St. Paul viewed the Church as the body to whom alone salvation belonged, admission to which was gained by baptism. If any Christian holding St. Paul's view chose to add any private ceremony such as circumcision in order to gain admission into any human society, St. Paul would not have opposed him any more than, if he were now alive, he would have opposed or denounced a Christian man because he became a Freemason, or an Orangeman, or joined the Oddfellows, observing the special ceremonies appointed for admission. The nearest approach in later times to the position taken up by the strict Jewish party will be found in the history of mediæval monasticism. The Cistercians and subsequently the Mendicant Orders endeavoured to persuade every person that every one who wished to be saved must join their Orders and assume their peculiar dress. On this account Fitz Ralph, Archbishop of Armagh, and his friend Wickliffe denounced them most vigorously. I have given some amusing instances of the opposition to the Cistercians evoked two centuries earlier by similar claims in Ireland and the Anglo-Norman Church, p. 42.

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This is the explanation of St. Paul's own conduct. Some have regarded him as at times inconsistent with his own principles with regard to the law of Moses. And yet if men will but look closer and think more deeply, they will see that St. Paul never violated the rules which he had imposed upon himself. He refused to circumcise Titus, for instance, because the Judaising party at Jerusalem were insisting upon the absolute necessity of circumcising the Gentiles if they were to be saved. Had St. Paul consented to the circumcision of Titus, he would have been yielding assent, or seeming to yield assent, to their contention (see Gal. ii. 3). He circumcised Timothy at Lystra because of the Jews in that neighbourhood; not indeed because they thought it necessary to salvation that an uncircumcised man should be so treated, but because they knew that his mother was a Jewess, and the principle of the Jewish law, and of the Roman law too, was that a man's nationality and status followed that of his mother, not that of his father, so that the son of a Jewess must be incorporated with Israel. Timothy228 was circumcised in obedience to national law and custom not upon any compromise of religious principle. St. Paul himself made a vow and cut off his hair and offered sacrifices in the Temple as being the national customs of a Jew. These were things in themselves utterly meaningless and indifferent; but they pleased other people. They cost him a little time and trouble; but they helped on the great work he had in hand, and tended to make his opponents more willing to listen to him. St. Paul, therefore, with his great large mind, willing to please others for their good to edification, gratified them by doing what they thought became a Jew with a true national spirit beating within his breast. Mere externals mattered nothing in St. Paul's estimation. He would wear any vestments, or take any position, or use any ceremony, esteeming them all things indifferent, provided only they conciliated human prejudices and cleared difficulties out of the way of the truth. But if men insisted upon them as things necessary, then he opposed with all his might. This is the golden thread which will rule our footsteps wandering amid the mazes of this earliest Christian controversy. It will amply vindicate St. Paul's consistency, and show that he never violated the principles he had laid down for his own guidance. Had the spirit of St. Paul animated the Church of succeeding ages, how many a controversy and division would have been thereby escaped!123123   I have often noted what I consider an unfair use of this controversy and of St. Paul's position in it. Men in the heat of argument have represented the High Church, or rather the so-called Ritualists in the Church of England, as answering to the Judaisers of St. Paul's day. There seems to me, however, no parallel between them. The Judaisers contended for a certain ceremony as necessary to salvation. I never heard of any Ritualist who considered any of his dearest practices in this light. He may view them as lawful, as edifying, and very necessary for the instruction of the people; but I have never heard of their most extreme adherents contending for their necessity to salvation. It would be just as true to identify their opponents with the Judaisers, because they have insisted, and often with great vigour, upon the use of the black gown in the pulpit. I have known extreme men to take up the position that the gospel could not be preached where the black gown was not used. Any one who will take the trouble to read the Life of Bishop Blomfield of London, edited by his son, vol. ii., will see some striking illustrations of the extent to which such views were pushed half a century ago.

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III. Now let us turn our attention to the actual history of the controversy and strife which raged at Antioch and Jerusalem, and endeavour to read the lessons the sacred narrative teaches. What a striking picture of early Church life is here presented! How full of teaching, of comfort, and of warning! How corrective of the false notions we are apt to cherish of the state of the primitive Church! There we behold the Church of Antioch rejoicing one day in the tidings of a gospel free to the world, and on the next day torn with dissension as to the points and qualifications necessary to salvation. For we must observe that the discussion started at Antioch touched no secondary question, and dealt with no mere point of ritual. It was a fundamental question which troubled the Church. And yet that Church had apostles and teachers abiding in it who could work miracles and speak with tongues, and who received from time to time direct revelations from heaven, and were endowed with the extraordinary presence of the Holy Ghost. Yet there it was that controversy with all its troubles raised its head, and "Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension" with their opponents. What a necessary warning for every age, and specially for our own, we behold in this narrative! Has not this sacred Book a message in230 this passage specially applicable to our own time? A great Romeward movement has within the last seventy years, more powerful in the earlier portion of that period than in the latter, extended itself over Europe. English people think that they have themselves been the only persons who have experienced it. But this is a great mistake. Germany forty and fifty years ago felt it also to a large extent. And what was the great predisposing cause of that tendency? Men had simply become tired of the perpetual controversies which raged within the churches and communions outside the sway of Rome. They longed for the perpetual peace and rest which seemed to them to exist within the Papal domains, and they therefore flung themselves headlong into the arms of a Church which promised them relief from the exercise of that private judgment and personal responsibility which had become for them a crushing burden too heavy to be borne. And yet they forgot several things, the sudden discovery of which has sent many of these intellectual and spiritual cowards in various directions, some back to their original homes, some far away into the regions of scepticism and spiritual darkness. They forgot, for instance, to inquire how far the charmer who was alluring them from the land of their nativity by specious promises could satisfy the hopes she was raising. They hoped to get rid of dissension and controversy; but did they? When they had left their childhood's home and their father's house and sought the house of the stranger, did they find there halcyon peace? Nay, rather did they not find there as bitter strife, nay, far more bitter strife, on questions like the Immaculate Conception and Papal Infallibility than ever raged at home? Did they not find, and do they not find still, that no man and no231 society can put a hook in the jaws of that Leviathan, the right of private judgment, which none can tame or restrain, and which asserts itself still in the Roman Communion as vigorously as ever even now when the decree of Papal infallibility has elevated that dogma into the rank of those necessary to salvation? Else whence come those dissensions and discussions between minimisers and maximisers of that decree? How is it that no two doctors or theologians will give precisely the same explanation of it, and that, as we in Ireland have seen, every curate fresh from Maynooth claims to be able to express his own private judgment and determination whether any special Papal decree or bull is binding or not?124124   The conduct of the Romish clergy in Ireland when the Papal rescripts were issued concerning the Parnell tribute, boycotting, and the Plan of the Campaign was an amusing commentary on their view of Papal Infallibility. Any one who will take the trouble to search the columns of the Freeman's Journal at that time will see how freely curates even criticised the Papal infallible utterances. One of them remarked to me at the time, "I think we have taught the old gentleman a lesson he will not forget," referring to the Papal rescripts. Infallibility is very good so long as it is with us, but when against us it becomes very fallible. Such is clearly the view of Irish Roman Catholics. This is one important point forgotten by those who have sought the Roman Communion because of its promises of freedom from controversy. They forgot to ask, Can these promises be fulfilled? And many of them, in the perpetual unrest and strife in which they have found themselves involved as much in their new home as in their old, have proved the specious hopes held out to be the veriest mirage of the Sahara desert. But this was not the only omission of which such persons were guilty. They forgot that, suppose the Roman Church could fulfil its promises and prove a religious home of perfect peace232 and freedom from diverging opinions, it would in that case have been very unlike the primitive Church. The Church of Antioch or of Jerusalem, enjoying the ministry of Peter and John and James and Paul,—these pillar-men, as St. Paul calls some of them,—was much more like the Church of England of fifty years ago than any society which offered perfect freedom from theological strife; for the Churches of ancient times in their earliest and purest days were swept by the winds of controversy and tossed by the tempests of intellectual and religious inquiry just like the Church of England, and they took exactly the same measures for the safety of the souls entrusted to them as she did. They depended upon the power of free debate, of unlimited discussion, of earnest prayer, of Christian charity to carry them on till they reached that haven of rest where every doubt and question shall be perfectly solved in the light of the unveiled vision of God.

Then, again, we learn another important lesson from a consideration of the persons who raised the trouble at Antioch. The opening words of the fifteenth chapter thus describes the authors of it: "Certain men came down from Judæa." It is just the same with the persons who a short time after compelled St. Peter to stagger in his course at the same Antioch: "When certain came from James, then St. Peter separated himself, fearing them of the circumcision" (Gal. ii. 12). Certain bigots, that is, of the Jewish party, came, pretending to teach with the authority of the Mother Church, and secretly disturbing weak minds. But they were only pretenders, as the apostolic Epistle expressly tells us: "Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls; ... to whom we gave no233 such commandment." These religious agitators, with their narrow views about life and ritual, displayed the characteristics of like-minded men ever since. They secretly crept into the Church. There was a want of manly honesty about them. Their pettiness of vision and of thought affected their whole nature, their entire conduct. They loved the by-ways of intrigue and fraud, and therefore they hesitated not to claim an authority which they had never received, invoking apostolic names on behalf of a doctrine which the apostles had never sanctioned. The characteristics thus displayed by these Judaisers have ever been seen in their legitimate descendants in every church and society, East and West alike. Narrowness of mind, pettiness and intolerance in thought, have ever brought their own penalty with them and have ever been connected with the same want of moral uprightness. The miserable conception, the wretched fragment of truth upon which such men seize, elevating it out of its due place and rank, seems to destroy their sense of proportion, and leads them to think it worth any lie which they may tell, any breach of Christian charity of which they may be guilty, any sacrifice of truth and honesty which they may make on behalf of their beloved idol. The Judaisers misrepresented religious truth, and in doing so they misrepresented themselves, and sacrificed the great interests of moral truth in order that they might gain their ends.

IV. The distractions and controversies of Antioch were overruled, however, by the Divine providence to the greater glory of God. As the Judaisers continually appealed to the authority of the Church at Jerusalem, the brethren at Antioch determined to send to that body and ask the opinion of the apostles and elders234 upon this question. They therefore despatched "Paul and Barnabas and certain other of them," among whom was Titus, an uncircumcised Gentile convert, as a deputation to represent their own views. When they came to Jerusalem the Antiochene deputies held a series of private conferences with the leading men of Jerusalem. This we learn, not from the Acts of the Apostles, but from St. Paul's independent narrative in Galatians ii., identifying as we do the visit there recorded with the visit narrated in Acts xv.125125   The reader should consult what Mr. Findlay has written on this point in his Galatians, chs. vi. and vii., pp. 92-112. St. Paul here exhibits all that tact and prudence we ever trace in his character. He did not depend solely upon his own authority, his reputation, his success. He felt within himself the conscious guidance of the Divine Spirit aiding and guiding a singularly clear and powerful mind. Yet he disdained no legitimate precaution. He knew that the presence and guidance of the Spirit does not absolve a man anxious for the truth from using all the means in his power to ensure its success. He recognised that the truth, though it must finally triumph, might be eclipsed or defeated for a time through man's neglect and carelessness; and therefore he engaged in a series of private conferences, explaining difficulties, conciliating the support, and gaining the assistance of the most influential members of the Church, including, of course, "James, Cephas, and John, who were reputed to be pillars."

Is there not something very modern in the glimpse thus given us of the negotiations and private meetings which preceded the formal meeting of the Apostolic Council? Some persons may think that the presence and power of the Holy Ghost must have superseded235 all such human arrangements and forethought. But the simple testimony of the Bible dispels at once all such objections, and shows us that as the primitive Church was just like the modern Church, torn with dissension, swept with the winds and storms of controversy, so too the divinely guided and inspired leaders of the Church then took precisely the same human means to attain their ends and carry out their views of truth as now find place in the meetings of synods and convocations and parliaments of the present time. The presence of the Holy Ghost did not dispense with the necessity of human exertions in the days of the apostles; and surely we may, on the other hand, believe that similar human exertions in our time may be quite consonant with the presence of the Spirit in our modern assemblies, overruling and guiding human plans and intrigues to the honour of God and the blessing of man. After these private conferences the apostles and elders came together to consider the difficult subject laid before them. And now many questions rise up which we can only very briefly consider. The composition of this Synod is one important point. Who sat in it, and who debated there? It is quite clear, from the text of the Acts, as to the persons who were present at this Synod. The sixth verse says, "The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider of this matter"; the twelfth verse tells us that "all the multitude kept silence, and hearkened unto Barnabas and Paul rehearsing what signs and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them"; in the twenty-second verse we read, "Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole Church, to choose men out of their company, and to send them to Antioch"; while, finally, in the twenty-third verse we read the superscription236 of the final decree of the Council, which ran thus, "The apostles and the elder brethren unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia." It seems to me that any plain man reading these verses would come to the conclusion that the whole multitude, the great body of the Church in Jerusalem, were present and took part in this assembly.126126   The fifth verse states that after Paul had rehearsed the wonders done among the Gentiles certain of the sect of the Pharisees rose up saying, "It is needful to circumcise them." Some maintain that this was in a missionary meeting before the Synod, but that this is no proof that such laymen, if they were laymen, were allowed to raise the question in the Synod. Of course the next verse states that "the apostles and elders" came together to consider this matter; but it also states that there was much questioning before St. Peter opened his mouth to speak on the subject. Surely the much questioning must have been on the part of the "certain of the sect of the Pharisees who believed"! A great battle indeed has raged round the words of the Authorized Version of the twenty-third verse, "The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles," which are otherwise rendered in the Revised Version. The presence or the absence of the "and" between elders and brethren has formed the battle-ground between two parties, the one upholding, the other opposing the right of the laity to take part in Church synods and councils.

Upon a broad review of the whole affair this Apostolic Assembly seems to me to have an important bearing upon this point. There are various views involved. Some persons think that none but bishops should take part in Church synods; others think that none but clergymen, spiritual persons, in the technical and legal sense of the word "spiritual," should enter these assemblies, specially when treating of questions touching doctrine and discipline.127127   It is a curious thing that three parties otherwise very much opposed unite in this view: the extreme High Church party in England, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Wesleyan Conference, which latter body restrains all questions of doctrine and discipline to ministers alone as rigorously as either of the others. The Presbyterian Assemblies are in many respects open to the same charge, the elders who represent the laity being ordained by imposition of hands as truly as the ministers and signing the same doctrinal tests. I cannot say how far this may be true of the Established Assembly in Scotland, but as far as the Free Church and the Irish General Assemblies are concerned, I am bold to say that no unordained layman sits in them. I was much amused some time ago reading the charge of a Wesleyan President of Conference to the newly ordained ministers of the Irish Conference, when he bid them remember that Christ had entrusted to them alone the care of all questions touching doctrine and discipline. See for the High Anglican theory, which is just the same as the Wesleyan President's, Joyce's Acts of the Church, A.D. 1531-1885, p. 12. Looking at the subject from237 the standpoint of the Apostolic Council, we cannot agree with either party. We are certainly told of the speeches of four individuals merely—Paul, Barnabas, Peter, and James—to whom may be conceded the position of bishops, and even more. But, then, it is evident that the whole multitude of the Church was present at this Synod, and took an active part in it. We are expressly told (vv. 4 and 5): "When they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the Church and the apostles and the elders.... But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees who believed, saying, It is needful to circumcise them." This indeed happened at the first meeting of the Church held to receive the Antiochene deputation when they arrived. But there does not seem to have been any difference between the constitution and authority of the first and second meetings. Both were what we should call Ecclesiastical Assemblies. Laymen joined in the discussions of the first, and doubtless laymen joined in the discussions and much questioning of the second.

There is not indeed a hint which would lead us to238 conclude that the Pharisees, who rose up and argued on behalf of the binding character of the law of Moses, held any spiritual office whatsoever. So far as the sacred text puts it, they may have been laymen pure and simple, such as were the ordinary Pharisees. I cannot, indeed, see how any member of the Church of England can consistently maintain either from Holy Scripture, ancient ecclesiastical history, or the history of his own Church, that laymen are quite shut out from councils debating questions touching Christian faith, and that their consideration must be limited to bishops, or at least clergymen alone. The Apostolic Church seems to have admitted the freest discussion. The General Councils most certainly tolerated very considerable lay interference. The Emperor Constantine, though not even baptized, obtruded much of his presence and exercised much of his influence upon the great Nicene Council. Why even down to the sixteenth century, till the Tridentine Council, the ambassadors of the great Christian Powers of Europe sat in Church synods as representing the laity; and it was only in the Council of the Vatican, which met in 1870, that even the Roman Catholic Church formally denied the right of the people to exercise a certain influence in the determination of questions touching faith and discipline by the exclusion of the ambassadors who had in every previous council held a certain defined place. While again, when we come to the history of the Church of England, we find that the celebrated Hooker, the vindicator of its Church polity, expressly defended the royal supremacy as exercised within that Church on the ground that the king represented by delegation the vast body of the laity, who through him exercised a real influence upon all questions, whether239 of doctrine or discipline. I feel a personal interest in this question, because one of the charges most freely hurled against the Church of Ireland is this, that she has admitted laymen to discussions and votes concerning such questions. I cannot see how consistently with her past history as an established Church she could have done otherwise. I cannot see how the Church of England, if she comes in the future to be disestablished, can do otherwise. That Church has always admitted a vast amount of lay interference, even prior to the Reformation, and still more since that important event. Extreme men may scoff at those branches of their own Communion which have admitted laymen to vote in Church synods upon all questions whatsoever; but they forget when doing so that statements and decrees most dear to themselves bear manifest traces of far more extreme lay intervention. The Ornaments Rubric, standing before the order for Morning Prayer, is a striking evidence of this. It is dear to the hearts of many, because it orders the use of eucharistic vestments and the preservation of the chancels in the ancient style; but on what grounds does it do so? Let the precise words of the rubric be the answer: "Here it is to be noted that such ornaments of the Church and of the ministers thereof, at all times of their ministration, shall be retained, and be in use, as were in this Church of England, by the authority of Parliament, in the second year of the reign of King Edward the Sixth." Objections to the determinations, rules, and canons of the Irish Church Synod might have some weight did they profess, as this rubric does, to have been ordained and imposed by the order of laymen alone. But when the bishops of a Church have an independent vote, the clergy an independent vote, the240 free and independent vote of the laity is totally powerless by itself to introduce any novelty, and is only powerful to prevent change in the ancient order. I do not feel bound to defend some ill-judged expressions and foolish speeches which some lay representatives may have made in the Irish Church Synod as again no member of the Church of England need trouble himself to defend some rash speeches made in Parliament on Church topics. In the first moments of unaccustomed freedom Irish laymen did and said some rash things, and, overawing the clergy by their fierce expressions, may have caused the introduction of some hasty and ill-advised measures. But sure I am that every sincere member of the Church to which I belong will agree that the admission of the lay representatives to a free discussion and free vote upon every topic has had a marvellous influence in broadening their conceptions of Scripture truth and deepening their affections and attachment to their Mother Church which has treated and trusted them thus generously.128128   I may perhaps be allowed to refer to a little tract of my own on this topic published at the time, on "The Work of the Laity in the Church of Ireland," as embodying the principles of Hooker applied to modern times and needs.

V. The proceedings of the Apostolic Synod next demand our attention. The account which has been handed down is doubtless a mere outline of what actually happened. We are not told anything concerning the opening of the Assembly or how the discussion was begun. St. Luke was intent merely on setting forth the main gist of affairs, and therefore he reports but two speeches and tells of two others. Some Christian Pharisee having put forward his objections to the position occupied by the Gentile converts, St. Peter241 arose, as was natural, he having been the person through whose action the present discussion and trouble had originated. St. Peter's speech is marked on this occasion by the same want of assumption of any higher authority than belonged to his brethren which we have noted before when objections were taken to his dealings with Cornelius. His speech claims nothing for himself, does not even quote the Scriptures of the Old Testament, but simply repeats in a concise shape the story of the conversion of Cornelius, points out that God put no difference between Jew and Gentile, suggesting that if God had put no difference between them why should man dare to do so, and then ends with proclaiming the great doctrine of grace that men, whether Jews or Gentiles, are saved through faith in Christ alone, which purifies their hearts and lives. After Peter's speech there arose James the Lord's brother, who from ancient times has been regarded as the first bishop of Jerusalem, and who most certainly, from the various references to him both here and elsewhere in the Acts (chs. xii. 17, xxi. 18) and in the Epistle to the Galatians, seems to have occupied the supreme place in that Church. James was a striking figure. There is a long account of him left us by Hegesippus, a very ancient Church historian, who bordered on apostolic times, and now preserved for us in the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius, ii., 23. There he is described as an ascetic and a Nazarite, like John the Baptist, from his earliest childhood. "He drank neither wine nor fermented liquors, and abstained from animal food. A razor never came upon his head, he never anointed with oil, and never used the bath. He alone was allowed to enter the sanctuary. He never wore woollen, but linen garments.242 He was in the habit of entering the Temple alone, and was often found upon his bended knees, and interceding for the forgiveness of the people; so that his knees became as hard as camels', in consequence of his habitual supplication and kneeling before God. And indeed on account of his exceeding great piety he was called the Just and Oblias, which signifies the Rampart of the People." This description is the explanation of the power and authority of James the Just in the Apostolic Assembly. He was a strict legalist himself. He desired no freedom for his own share, but rejoiced in observances and restrictions far beyond the common lot of the Jews. When such a man pronounced against the attempt made to impose circumcision and the law as a necessary condition of salvation, the Judaisers must have felt that their cause was lost. St. James expressed his views in no uncertain terms. He begins by referring to St. Peter's speech and the conversion of Cornelius. He then proceeds to show how the prophets foretold the ingathering of the Gentiles, quoting a passage (Amos ix. 11, 12) which the Jewish expositors themselves applied to the Messiah. His method of Scriptural interpretation is exactly the same as that of St. Paul and St. Peter. It is very different from ours, but it was the universal method of his day; and when we wish to arrive at the meaning of the Scriptures, or for that matter of any work, we ought to strive and place ourselves at the standpoint and amid the circumstances of the writers and actors. The prophet Amos speaks of the tabernacle of David as fallen down. The rebuilding of it is then foretold, and James sees in the conversion of the Gentiles this predicted rebuilding. He then pronounces in the most decided language against "troubling those who from243 among the Gentiles are turned to God" in the matter of legal observances, laying down at the same time the concessions which should be demanded from the Gentiles so as not to cause offence to their Jewish brethren. The sentence thus authoritatively pronounced by the strictest Jewish Christian was naturally adopted by the Apostolic Synod, and they wrote a letter to the disciples in Syria and Cilicia embodying their decision, which for a time settled the controversy which had been raised. This epistle begins by disclaiming utterly and at once the agitators who had gone forth to Antioch and had raised the disturbances. It declared that circumcision was unnecessary for the Gentile converts. This was the great point upon which St. Paul was most anxious. He had no objection, as we have already said, to the Jews observing their legal rites and ceremonies, but he was totally opposed to the Gentiles coming under any such rule as a thing necessary to salvation. The epistle then proceeds to lay down certain concessions which the Gentiles should in turn make. They should abstain from meats offered in sacrifice unto idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from fornication; all of them points upon which the public opinion of the Gentiles laid no stress, but which were most abhorrent to a true Jew. The decrees of the Synod of Jerusalem, as the inspired historian expressly terms them in ch. xvi. 4, were mere temporary expedients. They determined indeed one important question, that circumcision should not be imposed on the Gentiles—that Judaism, in fact, was not in and by itself a saving dispensation; but left unsolved many other questions, even touching this very subject of circumcision and the Jewish law, which had afterwards to be debated and threshed out, as St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians244 proves. But, turning our eyes from the obsolete controversy which evoked the Apostolic Epistle, and viewing the subject from a wider and a modern standpoint, we may say that the decrees of this primitive Synod narrated in this typical history bestow their sanction upon the great principles of prudence, wisdom, and growth in the Divine life and in Church work. It was with the apostles themselves as with the Church ever since. Apostles even must not make haste, but must be contented to wait upon the developments of God's providence. Perfection is an excellent thing, but then perfection cannot be attained at once. Here a little and there a little is the Divine law under the New as under the Old Dispensation. Truth is the fairest and most excellent of all possessions, but the advocates of truth must not expect it to be grasped in all its bearings by all sorts and conditions of men at one and the same time. They must be content, as St. Paul was, if one step be taken at a time; if progress be in the right and not in the wrong direction; and must be willing to concede much to the feelings and long-descended prejudices of short-sighted human nature.


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